Working Remotely: Is it a Realistic Move for Independent Agents?

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  • Most people assume independent agents have their own offices somewhere off Main Street. But do they really need those dedicated offices or would it be better to work at home or use a coworking space? Those options would save a lot in overhead costs. 

    What about location? Do agents have to be physically located in the communities they serve? How much of this work can be done remotely?

    Let’s dive in.

     

    Remote Working is on the Rise

    First, it’s helpful to have a basic idea of just how many people work remotely in some capacity. 

    Some eight million people worked from home in 2017 according to the U.S. Census, writes economics reporter Dan Kopf. While that’s just 5.2 percent of Americans, it’s a considerable increase from 3.3 percent in 2000. It proves that working remotely is definitely catching on and becoming increasingly popular both with self-employed individuals as well as larger companies. 

    It should also be noted that since 2005 growth in remote working has grown more than 11 times faster in the non-self-employed workforce employee population, according to workplace research firm Global Workplace Analytics.

     

    Remote Jobs Have Become More Common in the Insurance Industry

    When people think about jobs that can be done online, it’s often tech-centric positions like IT, web development and graphic design. Insurance jobs don’t necessarily come to mind. However, the insurance industry was ranked second in the top 10 fastest-growing remote career categories in 2018, explains career coach Brie Reynolds.

    As in many other industries, attitudes about working online in the insurance world are changing, and there’s a noticeable trend where agents are choosing to perform at least a portion of their tasks remotely. In fact, some experts believe this working arrangement can actually help agents be more efficient and productive than if they worked on-site. 

    For example, insurance industry consultant Joe Orr says that using virtual platforms to handle insurance customer questions and inquiries offers agents access to structured data and ensures a higher agent availability rate. In turn, they can deliver a better customer experience and are in a position to make continual improvements.

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    The Two Main Options for Working Remotely

    If remote work is something you are considering, you’ll need to decide what type of setup you’ll have in lieu of a conventional office. There are two main options — either operate out of a home office or a coworking space.

     

    The Pros and Cons of Working at Home

    “Working from home is often the go-to option for solopreneurs and beginning freelancers,” writes Cameron Chardukian at Coworker. “The biggest advantage of working from home is also the most obvious — you save money.” 

    There are very few overhead costs involved with a home office. You don’t have to deal with any office rent or additional utilities beyond the ones you’re already paying for. And as personal finance writer Abby Hayes points out, you can also save a lot on commuting. In fact, your average commuter ends up spending anywhere between $2,000 and $7,000 less a year by working from home. 

    It also gives you full flexibility when you can work when you want, and you have more control over your working environment. 

    The main downsides are that it’s easy to get distracted, some people find it difficult switching between business mode and their personal life, and the lack of social interaction can be troublesome at times, says remote work enthusiast Denise Mai

     

    The Pros and Cons of a Coworking Space

    Although still a relatively new concept, coworking spaces have become extremely popular in recent years with their numbers increasing by 16 percent in 2018 alone, according to Cecilia Amador at flexible workplace management platform Allwork.Space.

    If you’re unfamiliar, coworking is where you work independently or with others in shared office space, explains technology writer Margaret Rouse. You’ll typically have access to equipment like high-speed internet, printers and fax machines, as well as furniture like chairs and desks. 

    Besides that, many coworking spaces also offer amenities like rentable private meeting rooms, lounges and kitchens, says Kyle Pinto at wireless charging solutions provider ChargeSpot. In turn, this ensures you’ve got a solid infrastructure in place that you may not be able to afford otherwise, and which can help increase your productivity. Given the intrinsically social nature of coworking spaces, they’re great for combatting the isolation issue of working from home and provide networking opportunities. 

    The main drawback when compared to a home office is shared spaces are an added expense for independent agents. Prices vary, but according to Coworking Resources, people spend an average of $387 per month for a dedicated desk and $195 for a hot desk, which is one that is available on a non-reservation basis. However, coworking spaces are usually still much more affordable than renting a traditional office space.

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    Do You Need to Operate in the Community You Serve?

    At this point, we’ve established that working remotely is a possibility for most independent agents and the two main options you have in terms of a working environment. Given the fact that you’re not tethered to a physical location, is it still necessary that you operate in the specific community you serve?

    For instance, could an agent based out of Miami realistically offer coverage to customers living in Atlanta or Chicago?

    The answer is that it’s possible but probably not ideal. There are numerous digital tools available that can be used to engage and interact with customers all over the world. Customer relationship management software allows you to input customer information, assists with customer support and automates sales, explains tech writer Vangie Beal

    Cloud platforms such as Google Drive and Dropbox offer a completely digital infrastructure where you can save and store nearly all of your data. And telecommunications applications like Skype, Facetime and Google Hangouts make it so you can seamlessly have video calls with customers, notes the team at videoconferencing software ezTalks

    However, you can make the argument that a big part of an agent’s appeal is their personal knowledge and involvement within a community. 

    “An insurance provider based in the Midwest may not be as familiar with New England’s high water tables that increase flood risks in the spring, for instance,” says Peabody Insurance. “Would this provider think to recommend basement water coverage for this reason, as it’s not generally included in a stanford homeowners insurance policy?”

    Another draw-back to working in from a different location than the community you serve can be customer preference. While many insurance customers are comfortable using technology, not everyone feels this way. Some still prefer traditional communication where their interactions with an agent take place in person. 

    Beyond that, you could make the point that building meaningful, long-term relationships with customers becomes more difficult when you’re not operating in the same community. These are important points to keep in mind and show that you’re generally better off keeping your target demographic within a certain radius of where you’re located if you choose to work remotely.

     

    How Much of This Work Can Be Done Remotely?

    That said, most of your day-to-day tasks can be done remotely as an independent agent. According to career trends analyst Beverlee Brick, the vast majority of duties qualify. 

    You can use phone, email and messaging tools for communicating with customers. Digital marketing techniques like social media, SEO and pay-per-click advertising are all effective for generating ongoing leads, writes Scott Yoder at Marketing 360. And as mentioned above, CRM software is usually sufficient for managing your customer database. 

    The main issue agents run into is obtaining signatures for insurance documents. However, digital signatures and remote signing are ways to get around this, points out IT solutions company Cyber Stream Technologies. Using these methods, you can often get signatures remotely, while still keeping customer information secure and meeting legal requirements. 

     
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